article by college student on the environmental impacts of meat-eating
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College Veg in the Reg Print
Written by Katie Setzer
/The University Register/, Sunday, 01 February 2009
While many people associate vegetarian and vegan diets with animal
rights concerns, far fewer consider the environmental impacts of a
vegetarian diet. The current methods of meat and dairy production
greatly contribute to land degradation, clear cutting, climate change,
water shortage, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and air pollution.
The Sierra Club estimates that one pound of vegetarian-fed beef requires
16 pounds of grain and an estimated 2,500 to 5,000 gallons of water.
Growing all that grain to feed farm animals requires land. Over 260
million acres of forest in the United States have been cleared for this
purpose. Meat production also contributes to soil erosion, which is
crucial to land integrity and water filtration. According to Worldwatch
Institute, the meat industry is directly responsible for 85 percent of
soil erosion in the United States.
Eating one pound of meat is the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving an
SUV forty miles. A United Nations report released in 2006 stated that
the meat industry is responsible for more carbon emitted than every
single car on the road, every single plane in the sky, and every train
on the tracks combined. Noam Mohr notes in his EarthSave report entitled
"A New Global Warming Strategy: How Environmentalists are Overlooking
Vegetarianism as the Most Effective Tool Against Climate Change in Our
Lifetime" that methane is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than
carbon dioxide. The meat industry is the number one producer of methane.
Human-produced carbon dioxide accounts for less than five percent of
natural sources, while human-produced methane is 150 percent. In
addition, carbon dioxide emissions have only risen roughly a third since
the pre-industrial age while in comparison, methane emissions have
doubled. Mohr, a Yale physicist, is an environmentalist who has
researched for USPIRG and EarthSave, and calls on those wishing to
reduce climate change and their carbon footprint to consider adopting a
vegan or vegetarian diet rather than concentrate on energy efficiency
According to John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution, half of the
world fresh water supply is used in meat production in one way or
another. Robbins goes onto say that one pound of grain uses less than
one one-hundredth of the water used to produced one pound of meat. A
choice to opt out of eating a pound of beef is the water saving
equivalent of not showering for a year. In addition to water waste, meat
production also contributes to water pollution.
Water runoff from factory farms pollutes rivers with toxic amounts of
feces laden with growth hormones and antibiotics. Antibiotics in fresh
water sources pose a health threat because of the development of
"superbugs." Pharmaceutical companies must race in order to create
stronger and stronger antibiotics while doctors prescribe higher doses
because of the simple natural selection of bacteria placed in cesspool
breeding grounds laced with the same antibiotics at your local pharmacy.
The EPA claims that animal feces from farms have been responsible for
the pollution of 35,000 miles of river in the United States.
In addition to feces, growth hormones and antibiotics, fertilizers used
to grow grain for meat production in run-off create sky-rocketing
populations of algae, causing "dead zones" in oceans, lakes and rivers
and reducing biodiversity.
The problem is not that people eat meat. The problem lies in the way
most meat is produced on a large scale, and the large portions of meat
that first world countries eat. Eating meat is a luxury. In the US,
where the quarter pounder is practically a cultural staple, it's hard to
realize what the effects of excessive meat consumption are. Currently,
around forty percent of the world's grain supply is used to feed farm
animals. Harvard nutritionist, Jean Meyer estimated that a one-tenth
reduction in meat consumption would leave enough grain to feed 60
million people. One billion go hungry each day. The effects of meat
consumption are both far-reaching and profound.
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